Last last month, a study that examined how weed and booze affects sex was published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour. Researchers drew on a sample of 24 adults (half male, half female) and conducted in-depth interviews about their experiences of sex under the influence of each substance.
Dr Joseph Palamar – Assistant Professor of Population Health and drug researcher at New York University (NYU) – was the lead researcher behind the study, but wasn't sure if it was publishable at first. "A sample of 24 is pretty small," he said during an early morning Skype conversation. "It was actually only a pilot. A group at NYU funded us to use this as a pilot study so we could use the preliminary findings to apply for a larger grant."
When it came to alcohol and sex, the findings were pretty predictable: booze makes you more socially outgoing – meaning it facilitates the act of finding someone to take your clothes off with – and it's way more likely to lead to risky behavior and post-sex regret.
But with weed, some of the findings were surprising. "Some participants reported that the illegality of marijuana contributed to the facilitation of sexual actions," said Dr Palamar. "With alcohol you can use it pretty much anywhere if you are of age. But you can't smoke marijuana out in public; it has to be a private area, or an 'intimate' area where you're not going to get arrested. So if you have someone you're attracted to in your dorm room, or whatever, you're already in an intimate setting, alone, and doing something forbidden together. Participants commented on how that can lead to sex."
Martha, a 29-year-old horse-riding instructor, said there's "a massive difference" between having sex on the two substances. "With alcohol, there's a loss of sensitivity," she explained. "It can be a bit numb, depending on how much you've had. Because of that I find that the orgasm just feels deeper on marijuana."
Philipa, a 26-year-old administrator, feels the same: "You're definitely a bit more stimulated – a bit more sensitive to the touch – on weed. Sex feels much better than when you've been drinking. I think that's because you're more likely to get high with someone you know well and have a deeper connection with, which, for me, equals better sex. Drunken one-night stands often involve really shit sex."
These opinions were reflected in the findings of the study. "Participants reported that the sex 'felt' more to them when they were high on marijuana," Dr Palamar explained. "They felt more emotional with the person and more physically sensitive, so they enjoyed the sex more. Alcohol, we all know, has the opposite effect: it numbs your emotions."
Carl, a 26-year-old graphic designer, agreed with Philipa, but was keen to point out that the specific strain of weed could influence the experience: "Sex on weed is just nicer. You're more in tune with your partner on an emotional and spiritual level, so you can communicate better," he said. "Although, I think it depends what weed you get; if you were to have a sativa that wasn't very couch-locking, for instance, it would be fine for sex. But if you had a strong indica, you might end up very submerged in your thoughts and find it difficult to perform. Not that I do, though, y'know?"
Dr Palamar agreed that the specific strain of weed you smoke could affect the experience. "We wrote about that when we applied for the larger grant – we would need a big sample to test for that," he said. "That was one of the limitations that we couldn't look at: different types of weed, and different types of alcohol, too. It's a great point."
Maria, a 26-year-old estate agent, pointed out that sex after smoking weed is generally better as, in her experience, people rarely struggle to perform. "When I'm drunk I just can't get wet, and sometimes guys can't get hard," she said. "These are all things that never happen after a few joints."
Not everyone was so quick to talk up the magical effects of marijuana. Roy, a 22-year-old carer, pointed out that "as long as you don't have so much that you get whisky dick", a bit of booze can be a helpful incentive to get out there and fuck: "You've never heard anyone say, 'I'm going to meet that girl today – I'm going to have a couple of joints before I go because I'm a bit nervous.'"
And he has a point: for a lot of people, weed makes you look inward, not outwards, for sex with a stranger. Enough booze, however, traditionally makes people want to have sex with literally whomever's closest to them.
"A lot of the men did say that they felt more confident on alcohol, and some of the women reported feeling more attractive," said Dr Palamar. "Marijuana was a little different; people said they felt a bit more self-conscious. Another main limitation of the study, aside from the fact that everyone that applied to take part happened to be heterosexual, is that we didn't have the sample size to control for level of consumption. If someone is not used to smoking weed they might feel wary or paranoid, so you can understand that."